Understanding Targets (For the Under 10s)

Stick Child 1This is Stick Child.

Stick Child is just nine years old. Awww.

Stick Child wants to understand about targets, so he plays a game…

Stick Child likes paper planes, so he sets himself a target of making one in 60 seconds. How did he get this number? Well, he invented it in his head because it sounds nice. This is also how grown-ups decide targets.

Now, poor little Stick Child tried his hardest, but he just couldn’t make a paper plane in less than 85 seconds. This made him very sad.

Stick Child 2When his Grandma asked him if he had been able to make one in less than 60 seconds, he did a naughty thing and told her that he had managed to do it, even though this wasn’t true. Afterwards, Stick Child realised this wasn’t the right thing to do and felt bad.

Later on, Stick Child’s Daddy asked him why he looked so sad. Stick Child said he felt sad because he hadn’t told the truth to Grandma and he was very sorry. Daddy sat Stick Child on his knee and explained that numerical targets often cause this type of dysfunctional behaviour, but that it didn’t necessarily mean he was a bad kid. Then he gave him a cuddle.

Stick Child 3

Better still, Stick Child’s Daddy showed him how to fold paper quickly to make really good paper planes that fly well. He also showed him lots of designs in a book, which meant that Stick Child could learn how to make lots and lots of really good paper planes.

Stick Child practiced making paper planes and he became very good at it. He found that he was able to make some planes in as little as 25 seconds; others took longer, because they were a bit more complicated, but that didn’t matter because they were really good planes.

Stick Child 4This made Stick Child very happy. He was able to show his Grandma his planes and this made her happy too. Stick Child’s Daddy told him that although his 60 second target sounded nice, it didn’t actually help him make paper planes any better or quicker because targets do not provide a method.

Now Stick Child knows the way to become good at something is to learn about that thing, find a way to do the thing really well, and always do your best. He also learnt that targets make people do naughty things, even when they aren’t bad people.

If Stick Child can understand this, so can you.

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About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I have a big problem with numerical targets, unnecessary bureaucracy, and anything else that stops police officers from providing the best possible service. I believe that by adopting a systems approach, policing can be transformed beyond the wildest expectations of many.
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9 Responses to Understanding Targets (For the Under 10s)

  1. Ant Day says:

    Well done Guv. Nail on the head.

  2. forelorn says:

    Here’s my problem. Having helped implement a performance management system based around Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard my views are slightly different (I am a serving police inspector like Simon). Presenting senior managers with a Red Amber Green status (which by definition uses ‘targets’) did result in dysfunctional behaviour amongst some (perhaps most) managers. I deliberately use the words result in rather than cause as I believe that an individuals ethics, intellect and propensity for dysfunctional behaviour have a much bigger influence than Simon believes. HOWEVER. If Simon’s approach will help change the performance management culture in the police, and I think it will, it is a good thing. To get that message across it needs to be simple. If it isn’t police managers wont get it. If they don’t get it then they will entrench themselves in their old familiar world of quantative KPI’s and a simplistic crime and detection framework. Beware however of those managers who state they get this straight away this is a very good indicator that they don’t!
    By the way I’m trying to lose weight to get to my ‘target ideal weight’ which is not a weight that I picked arbitarily. I’m sure that plenty of science has gone into establishing what ideal weights are. Please can I have my pint now for identifying a target that was established through science. Mind you it has caused my to display dysfuntional behaviour. I’ve been to the gym…..

    • Thanks for your comments. I have no issue with the principles behind balanced scorecards; indeed it is important that performance is assessed through multiple perspectives. The problem is that most balanced scorecards I have seen only display snapshot numeric tabular data, and often binary comparisons. And targets. Uck.

      Re the bit about ethics, intelligence etc – I say, “No numerical target is immune from causing dysfunctional behaviour”, not, “Everyone who has ever been subject to numerical targets is guaranteed to engage in dysfunctional behaviour”. There’s a subtle difference. (For example, I’ve been subject to targets but I’ve always ignored them and just gotten on with my job).

      Finally, as Mooman has pointed out, weight loss is often associated with some of the most dysfunctional and self-destructive behaviour out there, plus the target weight is always arbitrary.

      No beer!

  3. Mooman says:

    “Ideal body weight” is usually 50th percentile BMI from health insurance stats that are 50yrs old. That figure is only ideal for the 1% that naturally fall on it. Not to mention your body weight fluctuates naturally day and night (more so for ladies). I would question the science behind your ideal number. I would also hope you don’t feel like your failing should you be a couple of pounds higher than this number.
    Ideal body weight targets can lead to dysfunctional behaviour such as eating disorders.

    • forelorn says:

      Going to the gym is dysfunctional behaviour (for me) as far as I’m concerned. I still want a pint but suspect I’ll have to buy it myself. Ah well. To be honest I would be absolutely delighted if i got half way (artibatry target alert!) to my ideal weight.

  4. Reblogged this on inscienceblog and commented:
    If Sticky Child can understand this…

    So can you!

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